Tag Archives: california

The Worst and Most Awkward Breakfast and Brunch in San Francisco


complicated_breakfast

I ate breakfast at 78 different places in the Bay Area last year.* Want to know what memories have been seared onto my brain lobes due to horror, disaster or sheer awkwardity? Read on.

Most Awkward

Mel’s Drive-in – multiple locations (I was in the SOMA one) – $$
Shockingly, the food was not terrible here, but my experience was overshadowed by a language barrier incident. The Italian (or possibly Brazilian) man sitting five feet away from me was trying to order and spoke almost no English. He pointed at the menu and asked for an omelette. Then this happened:

Waitress: What kind of cheese do you want?

Man: Omelette – yes I want omelette.

Waitress: But what kind of cheese?

Man: (points at the menu) Omelette, yes!

Waitress (slowly, like he is willfully misunderstanding her): We have American, Cheddar and Swiss.

Man: Yes! (now agitated, getting hungrier and more embarrassed)

Waitress: (emphasizing each word) But – what – kind – of – cheese – do – you – want?

Man: YES, Omelette please! (on the brink of despair)

Waitress: What — kind — of — cheese — American — Cheddar — or — Swiss?

Man: (pointing emphatically at the menu, getting ready to curse America and everything it stands for): YES!

Me: (embarrassed, indignant and uncomfortable) Just choose for him!

Waitress (looks at me questioningly and raises her eyebrows): Okay, guess I’m going to have to do everything for this one. (pauses) What kind of toast do you want?

Me: (falling over dead)

Waitress: I guess he’ll just do sourdough.

Most Disappointing
Rose’s Cafe – The Marina – $$

Put simply, this place sucked. The food was overpriced but average, and even tasted as smarmy as the service. Only come here if your yacht’s broken down and you can’t escape. Rose’s Cafe, you can suck a lemon.

Unfriendliest

Cafe de la Presse – Union Square – $$ 

I’d been wanting to come to this place for a while because it looked fancy and shiny and pretty. So I was excited about eating here, but it ended up sucking, so that sucked. I sat down near a window that happened to be open. Keep in mind that this is the morning in San Francisco where the air feels like a damp fridge. I was cold so I asked them to shut it and the waiter sighed and went to close it while he told me, “Ma’am, we are trying to cool down the restaurant,” like I was the dumbest person in the world. He left a crack open.

Most Forgettable

I wrote down the name of this restaurant as “The other place in Burlington.” The only other note I have about this is that it was “forgettable.”

Worst Smelling

Munch Haven – Civic Center – $ 

While the first thing you might notice about this place is the questionable name, the second thing you’ll notice will undoubtably be the smell – something like egg grease, cigarette smoke and dirty shirts. On the plus side, there were pictures of styles of egg dishes (fried, scrambled, sunnyside up, etc.) as well as the different kinds of cheese you could order. This is probably very useful for people who don’t speak English (see note on Mel’s).

Really?Most continually disappointing yet bafflingly popular restaurant

The Grove – multiple locations – $$

This restaurant will woo you with its fine appearance and tasteful furnishings. It says all the right things and makes you feel special and you’re optimistic that things will work out. Then, on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd date, it ditches you in the middle of a meal, sticks you with the bill and you find out later it stole your wallet, phone or passport. And the meal wasn’t that good either. Stop dating this guy. No fourth date.

Saddest
Joanie’s Happy Days Diner – Fisherman’s Wharf – $$

Happy days had turned into sad mornings the Friday I visited this restaurant. I remember the sound of the fridge humming, the television turned to Channel 6 news, fluorescent lighting and a mysterious sense of guilt. Maybe some more patrons would have made me feel less lonely. Was it my fault for visiting at 7 am, right when it opened? I think not.

Runner-up: Chestnut Diner – Marina/Cow Hollow – $

*Full list of breakfast places here: 78 Breakfasts in the Bay Area

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What Scuba Diving Taught Me about Dealing with Stress

Kelp forest

Photo courtesy of: David ho at raptureofthedeep.org

In December of 2012, I became a certified scuba diver. I didn’t go anywhere fancy for my “check-out” dive after spending a pool weekend in SoMa, just Monterey, CA.

It was a dreary, drizzly day indeed that we submerged ourselves in the 55 degree waters and descended to the depths. I’d never been afraid of scuba diving or swimming or anything else rational, but I did feel acutely, for the first time, what it was like to exist in an alien environment.

I thought I was far too smart to freak out, but I did end up experiencing moments of panic, even when I knew I had plenty of air and that I was in the company of experts and that there was nothing to fear. Despite this irrefutable logic, occasionally I would be hit with the intense feeling of “I want to be above water NOW,” with my mind instantly starting to circle the dark what-if places.

But then, the gods of Monterey would whisper softly in my ear, “Breathe. Just breathe. There is air in your tank. There is a regulator in your mouth. Breathe, you fool.” And I would, and it was fine, and I could enjoy the kelp forests swaying beneath the surface in a never ending song, stretching up past where my brown eye could see.

Shortly after my scuba diving adventure, I experienced a moment in which I was stressed out. Somehow, all of the tasks I’d ever lined up for myself became compressed into a single moment, and I bore the entire weight of my 20, 15, 10, and 5 year goals at once, along with my various daily to-do lists. It was paralyzing, and I tasted the familiar flavor of panic and inadequacy.

Then I remembered what the gods whispered to me under the sea, as I rocked back and forth next to the kelp forests, and I remembered that I could breathe, that I had everything I needed at that moment to survive, and that I would survive. Then, all my goals and to-dos slinkied back out to a normal distance, and I was okay, but only as long as I kept breathing.

If you liked this post, you might also like: What Improv Taught Me about Life, The 24-Hour Starbucks on California Street, and The Elastic Minutes. 

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BREAKING NEWS: Fox News Found Playing at San Francisco Cafe

Fox News at a Cafe in San FranciscoSAN FRANCISCO, CA — It was just another sunny Sunday morning in the Inner Sunset district of San Francisco. Parents were out walking their children and their dogs on the way to wait in line at breakfast places while the merchants of the local farmer’s market were displaying their produce and engaging with potential customers.

In the cafes, baristas prepared morning brews for a hungover or elderly clientele and the world rested and rejoiced in the last day of the weekend. Everything seemed right in the world. Birds flew, leaves rustled in the wind, and internet flowed endlessly to mobile devices.

But unbeknownst to the outside world, a cataclysmic clash of paradigms was occurring inside one humble San Francisco cafe, Cafe la Flore. Someone in this daring establishment had chosen to eschew cultural norms, and instead of CNN or MSNBC on the flatscreen,  this cultural deviant put on Fox news.

Yes indeed, Fox news was the choice of this humble cafe, the channel that has been called by locals a conservative propaganda machine, the opiate of barbaric and uneducated rubes, and in one case, the mouth of Sauron himself.

The very name evokes scoffing or even disdain from the average San Franciscan, who has never watched the channel except when there happened to be clips from it on The Colbert Report or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The gluten-free, vegetarian, and meat-loving liberal hordes dursn’t set eyes on the accursed channel lest their rational minds be perverted by the conservative backwash spewing from the two tongued mouths of Fox News robber barons.

Yet, in the face of this considerable cultural discrimination, some brave and likely isolated soul has hissed into the face of the liberal majority, defying them with a quiet yet potent act of subversion.

The world outside this cafe continues on, oblivious to the astonishing and all-together unforgettable political tension here in Cafe La Flore, but I and the man next to me both know the significance of this day. Though we shall never speak of it, we will always remember Sunday, March 10th, 2013: the day the world stood still inside the cafe and thought about political biases.

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Some Words from John Muir, the Most Annoying Nature Lover in the World

John Muir

John Muir: Scotsman, nature lover, beard-grower

I thought I loved nature until I (partially) read My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir. There’s a reason this guy started one of the foremost nature clubs in the world. He’s wild for nature. So wild, his passion occasionally branches into the ridiculous.

In the book, he’s routinely describing pine cones or a certain tree for an entire page, bursting with exclamations on nature’s beauty, talking in dismissive tones about his shepherd companion, or wishing he could stay awake all night to watch the stars. Don’t take my word for it, though.  Here are some passages that I feel best demonstrate the heart of his book.

All quotes are exact and taken from My First Summer in the Sierra, which John Muir wrote while traveling in the Sierra Mountains one summer in the early 20th century.

His (low and slightly threatening) opinion of other mountain travelers:  

“Somehow most of these travelers seem to care but little for the glorious objects about them, though enough to spend time and money and endure long rides to see the famous valley. And when they are fairly within the mighty walls of the temple and hear the psalms of the falls, they will forget themselves and become devout. Blessed, indeed, should be every pilgrim in these holy mountains.”

On what he’d do in the morning if he always followed his inclinations:

“Cooking is going on, appetites growing keener every day. No lowlander can appreciate the mountain appetite, and the facility with which heavy food called “grub” is disposed of. Eating, walking, resting, seem alike delightful, and one feels inclined to shout lustily on rising in the morning like a crowing cock.”

“Exhilarated with the mountain air, I feel like shouting this morning with excess of wild animal joy.”

On showing proper use of the word, “hark:”

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. Yonder rises another white skyland. How sharply the yellow pine spired and the palm-like crowns of the sugar pines are outlined on its smooth white domes. And hark! The grand thunder billows booming, rolling from ridge to ridge, followed by the faithful shower.”

On how to describe the sun’s transitions:

“And the dawns and sunrises and sundowns of these mountain days—the rose light creeping higher among the stars, changing to daffodil yellow, the level beams bursting forth, streaming across the ridges, touching pine after pine, awakening and warming all the mighty host to do gladly their shining day’s work. The great sun-gold noons, the alabaster cloud-mountains, the landscape beaming with consciousness like the face of a god. The sunsets, when the trees stood hushed awaiting their good-night blessings.”

On the night sky:

“Lying beneath the firs, it is glorious to see them dipping their spires in the starry sky, the sky one vast lily meadow in bloom! How can I close my eyes on so precious a night?”

If that doesn’t make you want to crow lustily at some alabaster skyscapes, I don’t know what will. Drugs, probably.

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I’m not a local, but then again, who is?

So cliche.

I was born in Colorado, spent three years in West Virginia, lived in Oklahoma for middle and high school, went “back east” to Boston for university, and then farther east to Egypt, and then even farther east to San Francisco.

To many people in California, Oklahoma is just as exotic as the Lost Kingdom of Thormasgurd, except no one wants to know more about Oklahoma. They assume things are radically different “out there” and they’re usually right. Sometimes they even express a fear of going to the middle place in the US because it’s a lawless, conservative backwater where people tie jackets around their waists, and I encourage this by tightening my cardigan around my middle and yelling “Yeee haw!” every time I meet someone.

I remember the first time my parents visited me at Boston University. I’d been away for all of eight weeks or less when they visited in early October, but on the way to Legal Seafood, I felt compelled to show them how city-savvy I’d become by wearing an eggplant J. Crew sweater and jaywalking, often stranding my parents on opposite sides of the street. Instead of proving myself an adroit city-dweller, I pissed off the parentals through my reckless walking behavior and ended up feeling dumb and sweating because it wasn’t cold enough to be wearing a sweater and speed walking.

Over the course of four years, and it did take me four years because I’m a slow realizer, I found that I would never be a local in Boston, that somehow my Oklahoma roots were standing out ever starker on the scalp of my collegiate experience (unwise metaphor?), and that, to my never-ending surprise, I was actually encouraging it, getting involved in things like stew-making and contra dancing and prairie-dress-wearing. While in the northern wasteland, I found comfort in identifying with a mostly mythological Oklahoma, not at all the same one I had mildly despised while growing up. The Oklahoma in my collegiate mind was something else. It was a warm fire in winter and a sense of belonging in a place where everyone was far from home.

Now in San Francisco, I’m finding the same phenomenon to be true. Though I haven’t lived in Oklahoma for roughly five years, it’s still the place I’m “from,” and I will likely be from there my entire life. In cities like San Francisco, many people are in a similar boat. Maybe not one quite as conservative or mythologically rich, but most people are not “from here.” Many are from other parts of California or other states on the West Coast, and they’ve been drawn to the hilly flame of San Francisco like hapless moths, just like I have. Quite often there’s nary a local to be found.

Being a local is a kind of rare currency in this city. It connotes intimacy with a place that so many people desire, and it’s something that can’t be bought or earned. It can only happen or be given by parents foolish enough to try to withstand the expense and private-school calculus of raising a child in the city.

I will never be a local here, no matter how asymmetrical my haircut is.  The only place I am a local is back in Oklahoma. I think that makes me a continual explorer, but it also adds the burden of creating home every place I go, but I guess that’s what we all have to do anyways. At least I’m in good company.

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